The number of Americans enrolled in fitness centers and gyms has increased by more than 50 percent since 2000, though the memberships aren’t getting any cheaper. Research has shown that gym-goers (particularly millennials) are ditching traditional $35-a-month memberships for expensive, boutique-style fitness programs with both customized workouts and elevated costs.
Still, it turns out a majority of Americans are actually confused about what it means to eat well or be healthy. Should you eat carbs or shouldn’t you? Should you run on a treadmill or outside? What’s the deal with fat?
To help understand some of the biggest diet and exercise myths, we surveyed over 1,000 people across the country about what they’ve tried, what they believe, and what might be confusing them. Curious how many Americans think celery has negative calories? Read on to see what we discovered.
Breaking Down Fitness Myths
If you know you want to try working out or eating better, it can be hard to know where to start. The internet is full of conflicting reports on what may (or may not) actually be good for you, and narrowing down a workout routine can feel more exhausting than the actual exercise. Sure, there may be some logic behind feeling a bit uncomfortable when you start something new, but it probably shouldn’t feel impossible.
We showed Americans 17 common claims in the health and fitness universe and asked them which ones they’d heard of and which ones they believed. One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to exercising was whether or not you really need to stretch before jumping into your workout. While 82 percent of Americans had heard they were supposed to stretch before a workout, and more than half told us they believed it, more recent studies suggest that stretching can actually impede performance rather than elevate it. Another popular myth you may have heard in the fitness community suggests running on a treadmill could be better for your knees than running on pavement, but in reality running anywhere can have its risks and should be approached with both caution and variety.
While 3 in 4 Americans told us they’d heard both carbohydrates and fats could be bad for them, less than 1 in 4 actually believed it. Popular diets on both ends of the spectrum may encourage you to stay away from one or the other, but health experts insist that while not all fats or carbs are created equal, they aren’t all bad for you either.
Groupthink in the Gym
Boutique or more personalized fitness classes are certainly on the rise with memberships that could be costing some Americans hundreds of dollars each month. CrossFit, SoulCycle, and Pure Barre ranked among the most popular small-class workouts, according to the people we polled. With nearly 30 percent of Americans telling us they’d participated in CrossFit at some point, it’s no surprise that the program is actually one of the biggest fitness trends in the country.
More importantly, CrossFitters reported the highest average levels of body confidence, followed by SoulCycle and Pure Barre. But of course, confidence isn’t everything when it comes to fitness. Americans we polled who did CrossFit or Orangetheory felt the strongest about their own health knowledge but were tied for most likely to fall for the health myths we quizzed them on. Alongside them? Americans seeing a personal trainer to help achieve their fitness goals who also believed 31 percent of the myths we asked them about.
Fitness Fact or Fiction?
There might be something about the particular types of workout classes Americans do that make them more inclined to believe certain exercise myths.
While some health experts point to the occasionally dangerous misinformation a person can get about their health and wellness from unvented sources (like Instagram fitness “gurus”), misinformation about nutrition could be coming from even more reputable sources.
Nearly 2 out of 3 people who take Zumba classes think they’re supposed to stretch before a workout, and 44 percent of Americans who participate in Orangetheory were under the impression that running on a treadmill was better for them than running outside. More than 1 in 5 people taking Pure Barre classes told us they think they’re supposed to exercise every day, even though research clearly suggests overtraining can force the body to plateau, reducing the overall impact of our exercises.
When it comes to nutrition, our survey found 1 in 4 people who use Orangetheory believed celery provided negative calories (it doesn’t), and nearly 1 in 5 said they thought diet soda was healthier than the regular stuff. In reality, neither beverage has any actual health benefits and diet soda consumption has been more clearly linked to heart attack and stroke over time.
You Are What You Eat
When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. Establishing a positive balance between eating right and doing physical activity can help prevent chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. But which diet to choose? With so many options, picking a meal plan can be just as challenging as deciding on a workout routine.
As it turns out, it might not actually matter which diet you pick. Cumulative research of 59 different studies found little variation in the success of any one diet over another, including either low-carb or low-fat. What actually matters is how well a person sticks to whatever diet they choose.
Over half (57 percent) of Americans we surveyed had experience with the Atkins diet, while more than a third had tried paleo or ketogenic diets. Both Atkins and ketogenic diets are focused on low carbohydrate consumption, while a paleo diet is based largely on eating lean meats, fruits, and veggies. Survey participants who had experience with the ketogenic and South Beach diets had the highest opinions of their own health knowledge, while Americans who participated in a raw diet (nothing cooked or steamed) believed more fitness myths than anyone else.
Heard It Through the Grapevine
So what kinds of misinformation might certain diets be connected to?
According to our survey, more than half of Americans who’d tried Atkins said they believed they were supposed to stretch before every workout. Despite having adhered to a low-carb diet, more than a third of Atkins users told us they believed carbohydrates were bad for them, while 14 percent told us they thought eating celery amounted to negative calories.
Other popular misconceptions based on diet presence? More than 1 in 5 Americans who’d been on a ketogenic diet told us they thought diet soda was healthier than regular soda, and more than 1 in 5 Americans who’d participated in a raw diet thought lifting weights would make them bulk up. Weightlifting is actually a great way to burn extra calories and can help shape your body rather than make it bigger.
Finding Your Groove
Whether you’re new to working out or just looking for a change of pace, finding your rhythm can feel overwhelming. With so many different opinions on which diets and workouts are really best for you, one truth stands out among all they myths: The most important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is consistency.
Finding a workout routine that works for your lifestyle and a nutrition plan you’ll be able to stick with consistently are the actual keys to success, regardless of anything else you might have heard at the gym or online. And now you know the truth if anyone ever tries to tell you celery has negative calories.
We questioned over 1,000 people across the United States about the fitness and diet regimens they had tried at some point in their lives. We also quizzed each person by presenting them with a list of health-related claims and asked them to select the ones they believed to be true. After comparing these answers against one another, we were able to determine how various fitness and diet fads correlated with believing in particular fitness and dietary myths.
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